Please educate me on computer speakers and sound cards

Very soon I want to get a new sound card with new speakers.
Frankly, I’m confused by all the various sound cards that creative labs makes. Audigy, Audigy 2, Platinum, non platinum, etc…

I’m going to be moving to a very small apartment where I’ll be using my computer as my DVD player… I want to have a 5 or 6 speaker setup mounted on the wall around the room. I want to be able to use whatever the fancy sound system that DVDs use, not just regular stereo. I will also be using this setup as my TV/Stereo combination with my TV input card/CD-Rom.

Can anyone recommend which sound card in particular I should get and what speakers (5 or 6 piece set with subwoofer) are compatible with it?


There’s two ways of hooking up your speakers to your soundcard: Analog and Digital. Analog uses the standard stereo audio jacks you’ll see on any soundcard, just more of them. Digital uses either a TOSLINK Optical output or a coaxial digital output. With digital output, the audio is sent to a reciever, where it is decoded and sent to the individual speakers. With analog output, audio is decoded by the soundcard and sent directly to the speakers. In theory, there shouldn’t be any quality difference between them. In reality, the quality of the Digital to Analog Converters on the soundcard decide whether analog output sounds better or worse than digital output.

Standard DVD Audio is in Dolby Digital or DTS, and is 5.1 surround (Center, Front-Left, Front-Right, Surround-Left, Surround-Right, Low Frequency Effect(LFE, the subwoofer)). Some DVDs use the newer Dolby Digital EX format which offers 7.1 surround sound (Center, Front-Left, Front-Right, Surround-Left, Surround-Right, Rear-Left, Rear-Right, LFE). I think DTS also has a 7.1 surround format, but I’m not sure what its called or if its widely in use.

As for soundcards:

Tech-Report just reviewed the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 soundcard and were very impressed with it, preferring it over the Creative Audigy 2. This card features analog 7.1 output, as well as coaxial digital output. It costs about $90 retail.

As for Creative’s cards, the Audigy 2 is their current model. The Platinum version uses gold-plated connectors, and has an extra “Audigy2Drive” that goes in a 5.25" drive bay, offering extra connectors and other frills such as volume control knobs, TOSLINK optical input and output, RCA inputs, and a remote control.

Overall, if I were buying a soundcard now I’d probably go with that M-Audio Revolution 7.1 card that Tech-Report reviewed. I would personally avoid Creative, as they’ve done some unsavory things recently (The Soundblaster Live! has the annoying habit of corrupting your harddrive regularly, the Audigy was advertised as 24-bit when it wasn’t, and they charged for drivers updates needed to get their soundcards to function, instead of putting them on their website). Unfortunately, I haven’t kept up with the speaker market so I can’t give you any specific recommendations, but a good set of 7.1 analog speakers would seem to be your best bet.

Thanks Aleron, very helpful.

Anyone tested speakers? I couldn’t find any 7 speaker sets. I was looking at the creative site and they have 2 different types of 6 speaker sets, one for a little over $100 and one for a LOT more than that.

Really, you don’t even need to buy a unified set of speakers, you can mix and match. The hardest part is going to be finding a center+sub combination, but you could get around that by buying a good 5.1 setup, then a decent pair of stereo speakers (no sub, since that’s handled by the main set) to form the rear channels. As I recall, Klipsch, Logitech, and Altec Lansing were known for making good, if expensive, stuff. I don’t know what your price range is, but you could try browsing online stores for speakers from good brands that are within your price range, then looking up reviews online (at, for example, or from professionals via google).

After browsing Creative’s site, it looks like their 6.1 speakers just combine the two rear channels into a single speaker.

After having a SoundBlaster Audigy burn out on me, I replaced it with a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz, which works wonderfully. It was also much cheaper than replacing the Audigy.

Right now, it’s got a set of Logitech Z-340 speakers connected to it, and I love those as well. Since you are looking at a 5-speaker setup, try looking at a Z-540 set, which is the 5-speaker version of my speakers. They have excellent bass, good mid-range and treble, and the satellites are on bases that can be screwed directly to the wall.